So, in this tutorial I am going to be talking about what got me into photography years ago, making time lapses. A time lapses video is basically the opposite of slow motion video, it is a series of pictures taken in set intervals to give the feeling of time moving quickly. This is an effect used very often in Hollywood movies and even more often in documentaries. I personally like it in wedding films to help establish a location or just while I am traveling to capture a scene in a more novel way.
I made a previous post on long exposure photography, where I talk about the basics composing a long exposure, the best settings to focus on, and this video going to basically a continuation from that post. If you have not read it, I recommend checking it out before this one, however I will cover all the basics in this post. One thing I am not going to cover is is astro photography and star time lapses because they require quite a bit of different settings to and I’ll make a whole separate post on the topic, and regardless I recommend you try some daytime timelapses before jumping into the stars because everything is harder in the dark.
What you will need:
I’ll start off with what gear you are going to need: The most important thing you will need is a tripod, it doesn’t need to be fancy, but it does need to be there to keep you camera still as you capture your timelapse. You also will obviously need a camera, in this video I am going to be focusing on full frame sony cameras like the a7iii, but all the same principles apply to the crop sensor camera like the a6100, 6400 and a6600 and even other camera brands. As far as what lens you’ll need goes, generally speaking I prefer wider angle lenses because you can capture more drama in the sky, however you really can use any lens fine, and some more telephoto lenses can give you an interesting sense of scale.
With just a camera and a tripod you can easily capture some incredible time lapses, but I also really recommend using a ND filter. With a 10 stop ND you are able to drag your shutter quite a bit longer than you would be able to otherwise, allowing you to get long exposures to blur the motion in the frame, giving it a dreamy look and you can keep you aperture below f22, so your image quality doesn’t get destroyed by diffraction. I talk about this more in my long exposure video.
You can also use a gimbal or slider of sorts to move your camera during the time lapse, and I use one so I really can’t say they are a necessity, but for professional timelapses, they are a great way to introduce dynamic motion. I hope to get one someday down the road, but for now I’ll focus on the basics of making a simple timelapse, and most of the time your images are large enough that you and add some motion into your timelapse afterwards while editing if you’d like.
Setting up the camera
Let’s move on now to how to set up your camera. Time lapses can be done on Sony cameras 2 different ways. You can use the S&Q mode, also known as the slow and quick mode, which is my least favorite option because it gets you the lowest quality timelapse. S&Q lets you slow your frame rate as low as you want for video and also edit the rate it playbacks at. By using S&Q mode you can get a already rendered timelapse out of the camera directly, but at a max resolution on 1080p and at an incomparably lower bitrate than you would via the other ways. Its great if you are traveling and are only working off of your phone, but I even then prefer not to because the quality is just so low, so for that reason I am going to focus on another method.
Thankfully Sony updated their cameras to have an internal intervalometer so we don’t have to use those awful external intervalometers anymore. If you have not updated your camera to version 3.0, I made a video on that, but most new cameras should come shipping with it now.
Finally, now I will actually get into how to setup the camera, and this can be a bit complicated, so I’ll do my best to explain it well. You’ll need to go into your menu system and simply go to the third page of the first tab and select ‘intvl. Shoot Func’ I have added this to my favorites menu because of how often I like to use it. Once you’re in the menu, turn interval shooting to on, then the next option is shooting start time, this is just the delay between you hitting the shutter an the shooting starting, I just have this always set to 1 second. I am going to skip shooting interval for now and set my number of shots to 240, this is because my final video clip I usually aim for is to be 10 seconds long, and if I edit it at 24 frames per second, I will need 240 frames. A nice feature now is if we go back to changing our shooting interval, we get a calculation at the bottom on the screen here telling how long the time lapse will take to capture. For the sake of example, I’ll set it to 5 seconds, will make capturing our time lapse take 20 minutes.
The last setting, AE Tracking mode, is the Auto Exposure sensitivity, so basically you can set you camera to auto ISO or auto aperture to allow the camera to adjust itself to changes in light, and for the sake of example I will have this set to Mid so I can capture a timelapse of a sun moving. The second page of settings has two arbitrary settings, Silent Shoot. in Intvel, Which turns the shutter on or off for the timelapse, it’s better to have this setting on because its just less wear and tear on our shutter when a shutter isn’t required for a long exposure and lastly is Shoot. Intvl. Priority which is if you are in full auto, it will try and keep your shutter speed as slow as possible.
One additional thing you’ll need to do is to turn off the long exposure noise reduction feature, this is awesome for single long exposures and can clean up your image, but it unfortunately takes a bit of time to do and the camera slows down significantly because of it. With that all set up, it’s time to set up the camera’s settings. I am cover why I have the settings as they are in my long exposure photography post in more detail. I like to have a 10 stop ND filter on my camera usually, so my image is quite dark to start with, so the first thing I do is switch the camera over into manual mode and set my shutter speed to somewhere between 1-5 seconds, ISO to a 100 and then dial in my aperture to get the desired exposure, and then I start capturing!
Editing the footage
Next I’ll hop onto my computer here and start editing. I always like to start off by pulling my RAW files into lightroom and place them into their own folder. I then pick a random picture, usually one about halfway, and start editing. My editing is usually pretty conservative, mainly just editing my contrast and maybe a graduated filter and a bit of horizon correction. I then copy and paste these settings onto the rest of the images in the sequence. From there I will export the files without too many special settings, I like to make a maximum resolution render of my timelapse just to make it super future safe. From there I move over into adobe premiere pro, sometimes depending on the complexity of the timelapse I use adobe after effects, but generally adobe premier is more than adequate for my needs. For a more step by step process I cover it extensively in the video, however because the rendering process is much easier to see in the video format.